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Classroom on wheels

WCCC's Sturm-ANB Bank Mobile Learning Lab takes first tour of western Colorado to showcase its mechatronics training capabilities

Western Colorado Community College (WCCC) unveiled the Sturm-ANB Bank Mobile Learning Lab to western Colorado communities last fall as part of the “Bringing the Future to You” tour. Beginning in January, the state-of-the-art classroom on wheels started bringing mechatronics programming and training to high school students, adult learners and businesses in rural, western Colorado.

The Mobile Learning Lab was made possible by a generous gift of nearly half a million dollars from the Sturm family and ANB Bank.

“ANB Bank believes in the importance of rural education and equitable access to technology for the people who live on the western slope,” said ANB Bank Regional President Vance Wagner. “Our bank, our ownership and our employees’ commitment to this belief resulted in the only mechatronics Mobile Learning Lab west of New York.”

The “Bringing the Future to You” tour kicked off at the Sturm Family Manufacturing Center at CMU’s Montrose Campus before making its way to Grand Junction for a picnic and ribbon cutting ceremony hosted near the ANB Bank location across from the main campus. The Sturm family, ANB Bank officials and Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce representatives were present, in addition to CMU President Tim Foster, faculty and staff. The final event of the first day included a community open house at WCCC. During this event students, staff and community members received a demonstration and were allowed to tour the facility.

Mechatronics is a manufacturing and technology discipline that integrates software, programmable electronic controls, sensors, robotics and mechanical systems into automated equipment and advanced manufacturing processes.

“Mechatronics is automation all in one setting, and the Mobile Learning Lab is basically a mini factory,” Vice President of Community College Affairs Brigitte Sündermann said.

The second leg of the tour included a stop at Caerus Oil and Gas in Parachute as well as a stop at the Glenwood Meadows Mall in Glenwood Springs. High school students, businesses and community members marveled at the innovative learning vehicle that would soon be available to them.

“This was the run-through-the-ribbon kind of road show to get the word out about how CMU can get training to the people who need it without them having to come to us,” said Sündermann. “There are students in rural communities who would never have access to this kind of technology if the lab wasn't’t on wheels. We want them to dream about their future and see how the Mobile Learning Lab can make those dreams a reality by opening doors for them.”

CMU Montrose faculty and retired electrical engineer Steve Metheny has traveled with the Sturm-ANB Bank Mobile Learning Lab since its initial tour. By the end of 2019, Metheny and the Mobile Learning Lab had visited businesses as well as high schools in Grand Junction, DeBeque, Delta and Ridgway.

“It’s really exciting for educators, particularly in the rural areas, to see that technologies usually reserved for metropolitan communities are now available to them too,” Metheny said.

Feedback from students has been positive, but Metheny added that local businesses also see the value of on-the-job training for their employees.

“CAPCO in Grand Junction, for example, was excited for training opportunities that could be customized specifically for their needs. The Mobile Learning Lab will ensure students coming right out of the WCCC program will already be familiar with their manufacturing automation processes and can hit the ground running,” said Metheny.

Sündermann, whose background is in engineering, added that students exercise critical thinking skills by programming the lab’s robotic equipment to assemble a hydraulic valve.

“There are so many people on the western slope that don’t know what kind of a gem we have here,” said Metheny.
Starting this past January, the Mobile Learning Lab started providing training at schools and learning institutions throughout the region and some courses will earn students college credit. Courses can also be tailored to a company’s individual needs.

“Some companies may just need the lab on location every Thursday afternoon for a month,” Sündermann said. “A school might have students using it twice a week for a semester to get college credit. We’ll still promote the Mobile Learning Lab in surrounding communities, but it’ll have to be between scheduled times for classes.”

And the phone’s already been ringing. •

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Written by Cloie Sandlin